Over the last 10 days or so, our good friend Blue Eyed Devil, has done a great job discussing how the Cowboys are positioning themselves for supremacy in the NFL for the next 10 years, by playing the Long Game. While I agree with his idea that a team can position themselves to be a part of the contention conversation for a long period of time, by having a big picture outlook on building their team, and by refusing to mortgage the future to acquire a specific player (see Redskins & RGIII).
However, a team must balance this long term outlook with the fact that peoples jobs depend on short term success, and with the salary cap, free agency and the draft happening each year a team must focus on what it will take to succeed in the next season.
We will look at 2 factors that explain this need for some short term perspective, that should also bring a great deal of hope to Cowboys fans looking towards Late July for training camp.
Lets take the JUMP!
I believe when you talk about taking a long-term perspective on building your team that applies to 2 areas. First of all it applies to the salary cap, you have to structure your players contracts in a way that will allow the team not only to be under the salary cap in year 1 but also allows the team some flexibility in year 2, (because things will change and you have to aim to succeed year to year.) Secondly, you have to take a long term outlook in the draft process, you can't draft for need in the following season, rather you have to find someone in each round who you believe fits your system and is a talented player who can succeed with your team long term.
However, when it comes to putting together a team, and attempting to win the Super Bowl, each year is a seperate entity that must be looked at independently. This is explained first of all by the overall parody in the NFL, as well as the significant amount of change you can make to your roster in just one off-season.
I want to first show you some information that I found very interesting , this is a listing of the Playoff teams from the 2007-2011 seasons from both conferences.
The teams highlighted in Green are the teams that were NOT in the playoffs the year before, and the team with the x next to their name, were the Super Bowl Champs that year.
As we dive into this information we realize that over the last 5 years, on average there are 5.8 new playoff teams every year. So HALF of the playoff teams are different every year. Also, looking more into the tables we see that 11 teams (Redskins, Bucs, Jags, Panthers, Bears, Lions, Broncos, 49ers, Chiefs, Dolphins and Texans) made the tournament only once out of these 5 years, so on average each year there are about 2 teams that made their only trip to the playoffs within our sample.
I once heard a quote from Cal Ripken Jr. after he retired that said he never appreciated the World Series the Orioles won his rookie season, because he thought they would get back multiple times. That was the only World Series he won in his career. So as coaches and players especially who have jobs on the line, there is no next year, each year should be a singular focus, of trying to make the playoffs and make a run at the Super Bowl.
Next I want to look at roster turnover, and I want to do that by looking at the state of the Cowboys today, and looking forward projecting what I believe is a possible and plausible look at what the Cowboys 53 man roster when they get on the plane for the Meadowlands on September 3rd.
As we look at this table the names highlighted in green are players who were not with the Cowboys on their 53 man roster last year. There's a total of 19 guys who are on my (way too early) projected roster, who were not with the Cowboys last year. That means that 36% of the 2012 Dallas Cowboys will not have been 2011 Dallas Cowboys. But why does this have anything to do with focusing year to year?
If a team can change 36% of it's roster from one season to the next, then it can completely turn itself around in one season, and go from bottom of the barrel to the top of the heap, especially if they already have the core of the QB, the pass rusher, and the pass catchers that the Cowboys have. But the opposite also holds true, poor personnel decisions made for one year can throw your team completely out of contention.
Knowing that in an average year, half of the teams that make the playoffs, will not make it the next year, and that between the draft, unrestricted free agency, and rookie free agency, you can completely change more than a third of your entire roster in one offseason, means any team is just one year away from being big time contenders, or a year away from being bottom feeders, and you can't lose focus on the forest (the next year) because your too busy looking at the trees (the next 5 years).